Here's Everything Wrong With Ender's Game

Here's Everything Wrong With <I>Ender's Game</I>
Asa Butterfield and Harrison Ford in Ender's Game, where the ridiculousness outweighs its few strong qualities.

It's almost a relief that Ender's Game has turned out to be a glum bore onscreen, a far-future cadets-in-space military drama whose pretensions to moral inquiry boil down to the guilt a kid may feel after stepping on an anthill. If the film had turned out grand, like the best of the novel it’s based on, many potential viewers would have faced a true dilemma: Is it ethical to support the creative work of a man who has loudly and proudly declared himself to be on the wrong side of the great civil rights battle of the day?

Our hero learns the encouraging lesson that alien races are worth trying to understand.

It's not news that Ender's Game author Orson Scott Card is a homophobic turd who has declared that anyone caught “flagrantly” engaging in gay sex “cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.” Or that in May of this year he posted to his website a “silly thought experiment” in which he likened Barack Obama to Hitler and predicted that the president will militarize “urban gangs” and “send them out to channel their violence against [his] enemies.”

I'll leave to you the question of whether it's right to buy a ticket to an adaptation of this man's imaginings. Instead, I ask you to consider how his personal failings compromise the work itself. One calling of the serious science-fiction writer is to craft a learned projection of what we and our universe might become. For all his smart work on future tech and the nature of war, Card has failed to imagine the egalitarianism of even the human present, much less that of centuries from now. Ender's Game, first published in 1985, offers one of those jumpsuit futures where all the clothes and people seem to have come out of a spigot, like frozen yogurt — it’s somehow less egalitarian than the real world just three decades after it was written.


Ender's Game
Written and directed by Gavin Hood
Based on the novel by Orson Scott Card.
Starring Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Viola Davis, and Ben Kingsley.
114 minutes
Rated PG-13
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In Gavin Hood's movie, Ender gets shipped off to Harrison Ford's Earth-orbiting “Battle School,” a sort of Hogwarts for future war criminals. His mission: to become the kiddo military officer so ruthless and savvy he can lead humanity to victory against the insectoid aliens who attacked Earth some 20 years prior. The gifted white kid is always surrounded by brown- and black-skinned classmates, but the story gives them nothing to do but react to Ender — to marvel at his intelligence, to envy his victories, to salute him warmly when he's promoted ahead of them.

Briefly, Ender is subordinate to a cruel Latino commander who keeps calling him “pendejo,” a rare case of any character here expressing anything resembling an ethnic identity. That builds to many scenes of brilliant Ender showing up Bonzo, the hot-blooded lug, who eventually resorts to dumb violence not far removed from what Card dreams Obama's gangs might try. Ender, of course, prevails — and then feels bad that he had to fight. If only Bonzo would have known his place!

What makes Ender so great? He's just born that way, like Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, or anyone who has ever believed that the color of their skin confers upon them some natural superiority. Card has envisioned a far-off tomorrow where most non-whites understand their subordinate position to white leaders, despite the fact that, even today, white folks are a global minority. This guy wasn't writing of a possible future; he was dreaming of a lost South.

Some of the movie isn't bad. Ford, as high commander muckety-muck, spends a lot of time scheming to harden and sharpen Ender, to strip away his humanity and build a better killer. He's amusingly gruff as he pushes Ender and the kids-club military not just to victory against the aliens but toward perpetrating a full genocide — an ugly, resonant idea the filmmakers make a hash of but that Card handles well in the book.

Asa Butterfield plays Ender as a keyed-up kid who has learned to affect a persuasive calmness. He sells the many repetitive scenes of Ender outwitting everyone, but he's not up to the high emotions of the final reels, probably because the movie isn't, either — in the last half hour, the most momentous events in the history of our universe pass by in a bewildering rush.

The ridiculousness outweighs those few strong qualities. Battle School centers on one of those stupid Quidditch-style competitions whose rules include an automatic-win condition only Ender and Harry Potter are smart enough to go for. Everything comes so easy for Ender that his big challenge before the climax is to learn to delegate — that's not drama, that's an anecdote for a job interview.

Attacked in the showers, Ender manages to scald a boy with water from a nozzle he had just been standing nude beneath, and we have to watch him play terrible personality-testing dream-vision video games that are even less engaging than all the scenes of him playacting as a space commander in combat simulators. The space battles don't have the usual problem of looking like video games; instead, they have the unusual problem of looking like terrifically cluttered screensavers. Everyone still says “email,” which I guess means there's hope for the postal service. And the big twist, which I won't spoil, manages to be simultaneously absurd and predictable.

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This sadly wasn't a review on a piece presented by a director with no true vision of a great piece of work, but instead a harsh criticism on the man behind the book. This is just a sad attempt to make some pokes at a man disliked by the author.


I hate the word homophobic. People use it to shame people for being normal. You know darn well you not suppose to be gay..... Don't need a bible or Christians to tell you that. Its just common sense. If you ignore the obvious, then you are delusional.

Anyway i liked the movie. The universe felt unique and i liked the music. They did need to explain a little more about how the bugs were able to communicate. I look forward to a sequel.


Ok ok, I understand the authir is homophobic and whatever, but racist? I don't think so. First off, Ender is friends with an Indian or Arabic boy and even defended him against a white classmate. What about Bongo? It was self-defense! Ender even felt guilt and remorse! About the missing ethnical identities, doesn't that mean that the world is more equal in the future?

And fir God's sake! What other name could we even give ta an eMail? Seriously! Also, the mind games Ender played were a form of communication the Formics used to speak to him. Sure the graphics are crappy, but what happens when you can't differ real life from a game? The destruction of a whole planet with its inhabitants as a bonus!

Overall, this critique is highly hypocrite and I really enjoyed Ender's Game. It was a good movie, one I hadn't had in a long time and I was extremely satisfied with it.


Woody Allen is a pedophile, Picasso was a mIsongynist, Ezra Pound was a Nazi etc. What's your point?


I have to agree, wholeheartedly, with the negative reviews OF THIS STORY.   How is it possible that a critic can be so clueless and still have a job?   Seriously.   So many thoughtless statements in this article.  Clearly the author is a serious homophobe.   Probably wears a white pointed hat/costume on the weekends as well.

I suspect that the author, having little actual skill, is resorting to shock value by posting a negative review to a good movie.   Shame.


This is a terrible critique. Enders game is ultimately just setting up the next book, speaker for the dead. I really don't understand your revelations about card being a white supremeist. Enders best friend is Arabic for crying out loud. It was also published in 1985, long before Mr. Obama. And to other person commenting, if you love the book, you know that it isn't a racist homophobic novel so how can you agree with this review

Ami Nosh
Ami Nosh

I think this article hit everything right on the head. I LOVE the book, strongly disagree with the author, but I'm not sure that the book would translate to a particularly exciting movie. And to the last paragraph . . . YES!


@b.h.bailey12 I was actually muttering to myself "this article is terrible" as I scrolled down here. 


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